United States Department of Education Update

By Linton, John | Journal of Correctional Education, December 2005 | Go to article overview

United States Department of Education Update


Linton, John, Journal of Correctional Education


The fall of 2005 has proved to be a busy and confusing time in Washington. As I write this column, a hearing is just beginning in the House of Representatives on The Second Chance Act (H.R 1704)." Eighty-eight congressmen have signed on as co-sponsors. Companion legislation is also under consideration in the Senate under bill number S. 1934. The Second Chance Act is still evolving as it is being considered in Congress. It clearly will not be a big new federal funding program. However, it does promise to support research and coordination of services related to prisoner reentry - and it reflects a continuing evolution of public policy in this nation concerning prisoner rehabilitation. As rehabilitation becomes more dominant, consideration of the educational needs and educational opportunities available to inmates and ex-inmates quickly comes to the fore.

In my last update, I mentioned some activity around higher education for prisoners. This continues, perhaps in part because this is the year that the Higher Education Act (HEA) was scheduled for reauthorization. Our Transition Training for Incarcerated Youth Offenders Program is a higher education program, and of course HEA is the parent legislation of the Pell grant program. Access to college programming by inmates remains a truly "hot topic."

The anticipated Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) report is out and it is a most substantial document. IHEP received funding from the Ford Foundation to do a series of policy studies related to college access by specific sub populations. The IHEP staff reviewed the literature, surveyed the States, conducted numerous and extensive phone interviews, visited program sites, and even attended CEA meetings where they conferred with correctional educators. The IHEP paper is a major step forward in constructing a comprehensive picture of what has happened with college opportunities behind bars since the end of prisoner access to Pell grants in 1994. The report is titled "Learning to Reduce Recidivism, a 50-State Analysis of Postsecondary Correctional Education Policy." It can be accessed on line at IHEP.org

Another foundation is showing interest in this policy issue. The Lumina Foundation recently awarded funding to the Urban Institute for a review of the available evidence of measurable impact of higher education programming offered in State prisons. It was my privilege recently to meet with the Urban Institute project director and her assistants, and to discuss their attempts to access State data that may help substantiate the benefits of prison based higher education. Once again, I was reminded how important it is that we take our CE data collection responsibilities seriously - we can never know when it will be of critical importance.

"Appropriations" has been an increasingly tough topic in this town. The Life Skills for State and Local Prisoners Program may be defunded as part of proposed economies. As we await word of the outcome of these deliberations, we are proceeding to prepare for a new competition for the Life Skills program scheduled spring of 2006. …

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